Thursday, 30 September 2010

Oh what a tangled web we weave…

...when first we practice to deceive.

I was having a discussion at work with some of the female staff. They were admiring my new boots and asking me the price and from whence they came. One person said, “At £16.99 you could tell your husband about them.” I was mega confused. “That’s a low enough price that you don’t have to lie,” she continued. LIE? Why would I need to lie to my husband? Clearly I am a bloke because it would never occur to me to lie about my purchases. Others were offering tips on how they deceive their spouses such as putting your most expensive purchase in the bag with the cheapest store name. Like putting your Louis Vuitton handbag in a TESCO carrier bag. WHY? He’s going to know it was expensive when he sees the bag, isn’t he? No, apparently not. Men don’t know anything about fashion I was told. Maybe I am not a bloke after all. I can recognise fashion I just want no part of it.  One person even told us how she showed her daughter how to forge receipts on the computer, print them and cut them to size. WHY? He’s going to find out when the bill comes.

Why all the lies? I cannot imagine being in a relationship where you had to lie so much. How could you keep it all straight? I stopped and said a silent prayer of thanks that I was married to a wonderful man and we were honest with each other. I had a friend in college who had to get her husband’s permission to do anything/buy anything. I remember she wanted to cut her long hair because it was too hard to deal with after the birth of their baby. He refused. She asked time and time again. One day she woke him up and asked and he answered half asleep and gave the answer she was looking for. She went right out that day and had it bobbed. He was livid. But she pointed out that he had said yes and her sister was the witness. He felt tricked--and rightly so. She deceived him. She felt justified--and rightly so. A person’s body is their own.  If people were just honest with each other, this wouldn’t happen. Deception is a kind of manipulation. What is the point?

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

I am not a Shoe Whore

I am not crazy about shopping. I am not mad for handbags. I wouldn’t recognise a pair of Jimmy Choos  if you took one off your dainty foot and clubbed me over the head with its spiky heel. I do not own enough pairs of shoes that I need a separate closet for them all. I do not own shoes in coordinating colours to my outfits. My house does not in any way resemble a shoe shop.  I’m clearly not a real woman. I can’t be if you believe the stereotype of “All women care about is shopping and shoes.” Therefore, by that definition, I must be a bloke.

My mum hails from the Imelda Marcos school of footwear. I take after my father. I own one pair of shoes for each season. I own a pair of wellies for rainy days. I have some sandals for hottest summer. I have a pair of black CROCS that can be worn with or without tights depending on the weather in spring. I have a pair of knee high faux fleece lined boots for coldest winter. And now I own a pair of ankle boots for autumn. It has been a bit cold and damp and my CROCS have not been warm enough, but it is too soon for the winter boots. So I reluctantly trudged over to our only shoe shop The Shoe Zone. Sure, clothing shops sell shoes, but they are more the fashionable but uncomfortable and not at all practical kind. So Shoe Zone it is.

There is also the issue with leather. I won’t wear it. I don’t want dead cow on my feet. The leather industry is a byproduct of the slaughterhouse industry and I don’t want to support them in any way. There are many vegan footwear shops online that sell non leather shoes, but they cost a packet. This is one thing that keeps the Amazing Spiderman from getting vegan shoes. It just hurts too much to by a pair of shoes for £75. But he does get vegan belts and wears them with a cool belt buckle shaped like a life size tarantula. Yes he does, but I digress. The Shoe Zone often has many “accidentally vegan” shoes for reasonable prices.

So I drag myself in and start to touch and smell the shoes. Not like sticking a shoe up my nose--I’m not a nutter--but as I lift it up to look for sizing I inhale slightly. Leather has that SMELL. It is a smell I used to find appealing, but now I do not. Then I find one that feels and smells right and I turn it over to read the sticker that shows the symbols and see if any bits are made from carcass. Sometimes they can trick you by hiding some leather trim on a wee bit of the shoe. Then comes the real trial. I have feet like an elf. I wear size 3  (size 5 in the US) but sometimes I can wear a 4. That’s when I feel like a giant. Most shoes seem to start in size 5. Once I actually find a pair in my elfin size then the last test begins--Is it comfortable? Will the shoe last? Is there a good sole? We are car free and I walk at least 2 miles every day--to work, to the shops and home again. Sometimes more. A shoe with a thin brittle sole will just crack or wear out and that means I’d have to go out and buy some more bloody shoes. 

Success! I find a pair of non leather ankle boots with a thick rubber sole in brown for £16.99. I would have preferred black, but hey ho. I got shoes. I like them so much after payday I will go buy a second pair to stash away for when these wear out in a couple of years. I’ve got an identical pair of winter boots lurking in my wardrobe for this exact purpose. This way I may not have to shop for shoes again for another 3 years or so. God, I really am a bloke.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Mirror Mirror On The Wall…

I love lotions and potions. That’s a fact. Somedays our kitchen is more like a chemist shop. I love nice smelling stuff, but what I don’t love is Petroleum. Or funky hormone disrupting chemicals. I try to subscribe to the theory that you shouldn’t put anything on your skin that you wouldn’t put in your mouth. After all your skin is your largest organ. I think I manage this with everything but shampoo. But even the shampoo we use doesn’t use Sodium Lauryl Sulfate which is very strong surfactant (making things all bubbly) and is used as an industrial degreaser. It is also extremely irritating causing us for years to think Spiderman had dandruff when it was just eczema. It also doesn’t include Propylene Glycol who is a cousin to antifreeze. No thanks. Our shampoo hardly lathers but really cleans. And I never use hormone disrupting Paraben preservatives. Several studies have found traces of parabens in women with breast cancer. They are not sure there’s a link, but I’m taking no chances.

But anything I put on my face or body I want to be edible. Enter coconut butter. This stuff is amazing. It is solid at room temperature, but melts on contact with your skin. You only need a dab to make your skin feel all silky smooth. In the hottest summer days (which admittedly were not many this year) I kept in the fridge. You can scent it with some essential oils like lavender. I order mine from   and I get 1kg for £7.95. It lasts for ages. I just store some in the bathroom in an empty salsa jar. I also make deodorant with it. Did I mention that it is antibacterial as well?

And it is food grade so you can cook with it. Here is a recipe for raw brownies from one of my favourite blogs. This recipe will feature in Dreena Burton’s new cookbook that will be out in about a year. I can hardly wait. .

As for my face I wash with a mixture of olive oil and sunflower oil. Ewwww I hear you cry. I’ve got oily skin I don’t want to put oil on it. Actually you might. I have combination skin and the oily bits used to be in a vicious cycle of clean with overdrying cleanser, follow up with sea breeze (remember that stuff that felt like it was burning your skin off with its alcoholic peppermint stink???) and having dry tight patches that need moisturising. Then when you put a dab of oil free lotion--PRESTO! Zits. Or spots as they are called here. Whatever you call them, nobody wants them so you wash your face ever more vigorously and the whole cycle starts all over again. Not so with oil. Oil actually attracts oil and dirt and rubs them away without over drying. Then follow up with rosewater. Not alcohol which dries the skin and forces it to produce more oil to compensate for the protective oil you stripped away. Then a few drops Vitamin E on my face and neck to counteract the signs of aging. I am 40 and it is slightly beginning to show. That’s it. I have been told over and over how good my skin looks. How clear. Some of that is a healthy diet and exercise, but most of it is down to washing with stuff you can eat.

You are what you eat.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Stick to your ribz

When I was a girl in the deep south the phrase “Stick to your ribs” was generally used to describe heavy, stodgy, meaty comfort food. Those days have (thankfully) passed for me. But sometimes I get a craving for that down home goodness, but without all the yuck that goes with it. Enter tempeh sausage. It is not actually sausage or even a fake meat but rather just good ole fermented tempeh with lots of spices that give it a savoury feel. The recipe is courtesy of the people from the Post Punk Kitchen (PPK to those in the secret society of vegans) and their wonderful cookbook Veganomicon.

Veganomicon Tempeh Sausage Crumbles

8 oz package tempeh
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried margoram or oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lemon

Slice up your tempeh into bits and then boil for 10 minutes in a beefy type stock—I use a glug of tamari soy sauce and a tsp marmite. This helps remove any bitterness and gives it a nice flavour. Then drain and fry in a skillet with the above ingredients. Easy peasy. I serve with potatoes and veg. In this case steamed broccoli.

But there must be gravy. “Sausage” and potatoes require gravy. And so God said “Let there be gravy” and He invented cashew gravy and saw that it was good.

Cashew Gravy adapted from VegWeb

    2 cups hot water, divided
    1/2 cup cashews
    2 tablespoon tamari soy sauce
    1 tablespoon cornstarch or arrowroot
    2 teaspoon onion powder
     1 TB nutritional  yeast
Set aside 1 cup of hot water. Put everything else in a blender and blend very well. My vitamix does it in about 1 minute. But others with a blender without a 2 horsepower motor may need to soak the cashews to soften and blend longer. . Add 2nd cup of water. Pour into a pan and heat until thickened.

That’s it! Down home cookin’  without sufferin’. Genius.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

All About My Nose

I blow my nose. A lot. This probably sounds like too much information, but I assure you it is not. I have umpteen allergies  from hay fever to furry animals--not such an easy job to avoid when you have to work closely with children and they are covered in pet hair. So I use one of these. A NETI POT. This is the best thing since sliced bread and has kept my nose clear and my head from exploding on more than one occasion I can tell you. Basically it looks like Aladdins lamp and you use it to pour warm, salty water through your nose until it comes out the other nostril. Grossed out yet? Dont be. This thing rocks. It washes away dirt, pollen, pet hair and GERMS. I have not had a sinus infection since 2002. Hand on heart, thats true. And anyone who knows me knows I used to get them many times a year. Once I had one that lasted  6 months when I was teaching in a classroom riddled with damp. So thats the first thing about my nose--or your nose for that matter. If you have sinus issues, get a NETI POT.

As I said I blow a lot. When I have a cold I use disposable tissues for hygiene sake, but on a normal every day pollen/pet hair issue, I use a cotton hankie to save some trees. My dear ole dad was big on hankies. That is one of  my most consistent childhood memories--me having some sort of allergic reaction and him quietly, calmly pulling out his white hankie and letting me blow, then folding it back over to a clean spot and re-pocketing it for my next sneeze. He was always easy to buy for at Christmas--he genuinely liked new socks and handkerchiefs. When he died I kept a few as a memento. I have bought some white hankies like the ones he used to carry and I keep one in my apron pocket. But Im not as good at keeping them sparkling white as we dont really have any white clothes as neither of us can keep white clean and I refuse to use bleach as it is really toxic. So my hankies have been washed in with the dark clothes for a while are a sad slightly grey shade. So what to do? I thought about getting some RIT dye and tie-dying them but then I read the packet and the warning labels for toxicity and decided that I didnt want to blow my nose on chemicals. Or wipe with chemicals for that matter. I am so crunchy I use cloth toilet paper (just for wee--dont go all mad and start freaking out here) made from an old flannel sheet  which has also faded a bit so I was planning to dye them with the hankies for a bit o colour. But clearly the big red poison symbol with the big X on it put me off. So they will stay as they are. But the hankies! A solution presented itself yesterday.

Hitchin is full of charity shops. Lots of good second hand bargains to be found. I popped  into the Save the Children Shop on my way home from school and there, for 20p each, were beautiful, coloured antique hankies. Like your granny would have used. Lovely pastel colours, some with a bit of flower embroidery others with a bit of faggoting. Stop sniggering --this is faggoting  and I picked up 5 for the princely sum of one quid. Ewwww, you say, I dont want to blow my nose on someone elses hankies no matter how purdy they are. Well you dont have to.  I washed them. I had to. Someone else had washed and pressed them but they REEKED like a detergent whorehouse. Why do people think that some artificial chemical smell that could knock you unconscious equals clean? Which brings me to my third thing about my nose.

I hate the way conventional detergents smell and make us break out in rashes. So we use these. Soapnuts. They grow on a tree and you can wash with them--how cool is that? And after 3 washes you can compost them. Even cooler. And the Amazing Spiderman has no more eczema  and I dont get an asthma attack from inhaling weird artificial scent. Bonus. The clothes come out smelling clean. A bit like rain. But not chemically in the least.

So wash your nose with a Neti Pot, blow your nose on a cotton hankie to save trees and trust your nose to know that artificial smell does not always equal clean. This is my advice. The nose knows.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Ode to an ear of corn

I purchased some corn on the cob the other day from the market and it got me thinking.
How do others cook their corn? Do you eat it raw? Do you boil it? Or do you roast it like we do? I got this idea from the nice lady over at Fat Free Vegan where you roast it in the oven in the husk for 30 minutes then shuck and eat. Delicious. It probably takes as long as boiling the water but it feels faster as you can leave it and get on to doing something else. When boiling up a gigantically pot of water you are constantly checking it out and swearing at it and shouting Where are the bubbles? Why cant I see any little bubbles forming on the bottom of the pot? and doing lots of sighing and huffing. At least that is how it goes in my house.

How do you eat your corn? Do you go all the way down the row left to right  and then go back to the left and start all over? This is my preferred method. I actually like to pretend Im a typewriter and go DING! At the end of each row. This annoys the Amazing Spiderman to no end, which is probably why I like to do it.
Do you eat in a circular way starting on the left and eating all around the cob and then moving over a bite at a time until you reach the end? This is how the Amazing Spiderman does it. I think it is more fun to pretend youre a typewriter, although these days who knows what a typewriter even is?

Do you use those little novelty doo-dahs to hold your corn? This a favourite thing from my childhood. We had little plastic spiky doo-dahs shaped like (wait for it) ears of corn that you put in to either end of the ear to give you handles to hold on to. My mum found some just like my childhood set and posted them to me. Thanks Mum!  I ALWAYS use them. They are so much fun and make the corn feel even more festive like a party or a picnic. Spiderman NEVER uses them despite the fact that I have a set of 6. He says nothing can make food more fun. Which I totally disagree with. Vegetables cut into shapes taste better. FACT.

            So how do you do it then? Id be interested to hear. Does anyone eat from right to left? Maybe like reading Hebrew or Arabic? Just curious.

            Just to end with a joke since were being corny here.
Q: What did the ear of corn call his Dad?
A: Pop Corn
Boom Boom!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Lick the Dish

We live in a market town and have a lovely market of fresh fruit and veg at rock bottom prices right on our doorstep every Tuesday and Saturday. We also have a deli that buys up over abundance of locally grown fruit and veg as well as a green grocer. It’s a vegan’s dream to be surrounded by healthy food, much of it locally grown. I love it here. You get everything loose (it’s BYOB--Bring Your-Own Bag) and no plastic. Good times.

Allow me to acquaint you with some of my favourite market buys.

Fennel. I love this stuff with its feathery green fronds and aniseed-y taste. But buying it at the supermarket can be mega expensive. I think it is £4.75 per pound or some other exorbitant figure that puts it out of my reach. Except at the market. There you can get big ole fennel 2 for £1.50. That’s 75p each. But you have to go early as they sell out quickly. And it’s not by size or weight--it’s per fennel. Did you notice that? So I can 2 good sized heavy ones for £1.50. Yes please.

Red peppers. I am pepper mad. I love the shiny red pepper and its crunchy sweet taste with all that vitamin C. More than an orange I think I read somewhere. But in the supermarket you get 3 in a plastic bag for £1.50 and one of them is green. I don’t like green. They have a funky bitter taste to me. Or you could go to the posh shop Marks and Spencer (M&S to those of us in the know) and get 3 for £1.60 but with no green. But it still comes in a plastic bag. What is the solution when you need peppers but don’t need plastic? Try the market first. Yesterday I got 6 fist sized glossy red peppers for £1. Yup, you heard me. One pound. And no plastic. One had a slightly wrinkled side so it was eaten up last night, but the rest will last the week. When the market has no peppers I will resort to the M&S bag to escape the dreaded green one. But most of the time I can snap some market ones up into my little cloth bag.

Friends have asked me “How can two people possibly eat 6 peppers in a week?” The answer is easy. Tonight we’re having a mixed bean and veg salad with roasted corn on the cob. One pepper goes in there. Tomorrow we’ll have Barley Risotto from the Vegan Yum Yum cookbook with roasted fennel, red onions and peppers. That’s 2 more peppers gone. See, we’re half way there already. Then I’ll roast (I see a theme here with all this roasting veg, don’t you?) sweet potatoes, tart bramley apples, carrots, 2 more peppers and red onions in the oven and then add stock and make a soup. I’ll puree it in my beloved Vita-Mix (I could write a whole post about this--and will wax lyrical about it at a future date) and have lovely sweet tangy soup. That just leaves one pepper to go which will probably be put in a salad somewhere along the line at lunch.

Now I’m very hungry so I’m off to make lunch. Probably involving a red pepper in some way. Yeah.


Oh something I meant to add. You see how the thought of fresh food makes me go all gaga and forgetful? When I was coming home from the market yesterday in my dress apron and new mob cap (mob caps are cool) heavily laden with produce I was shouted at my several men who had clearly been imbibing alcohol. Now I have a slosh of brandy or frangelico in my chocolate oat milk from time to time, but I don’t sit around in front of a Medieval church drinking Triple XXX Lager at 10:30 in the morning. Ya dig? So one of them shouts, “Nice hat!” and I smile my friendliest smile and say, “Thanks,” and try to carry on but another ones gets up and stands in front of me. I stand up straighter giving my most confident and radiant smile and the man in my way shouted, “Piss off you lot.” Okay. So the other men amble away and the man starts to talk with me. Here is a replay of our conversation.

“What’s that all about then? Them clothes?” He gestures spilling a slosh of lager on the pavement.

“I’m a Quaker. It’s the church I go to. Most Quakers don’t dress like this but I do.”

“Oh Quakers. Yeah, they’ve got some Quaker stuff on the outside of the library.”

“Oh yeah, that's right. There is that mural on the library that shows Quakers in Hitchin.”

“Why do you wear them clothes if no one else is?”

“Well I don’t want to buy clothes that are made in sweatshops by poor children.”

“Aw yeah. I saw a show about that on telly. Them little foreign kids working 18 hours a day for pennies. That’s a real shame. So where do you get your clothes then?”

“I sew them myself.”

His eyes start to shine and he becomes really animated.

“Aw my sister she has a sewing machine and she makes all her clothes and her kids clothes, too. She has this old machine with a treadle where you have to pump it with both feet to make it sew.” He demonstrates sewing technique and spills a bit more lager.

“I’ve always wanted one of those old fashioned ones. I just have an electric sewing machine.”

“That is cool. Yeah, really cool. Good talking to you. Nice to see someone keeping the faith.” And he waved and toddled off.

So yeah. Being plain can have its advantages. I have spoken to a man and shown him kindness. He may (or may not depending on the amount of lager he drinks) remember it. But I will.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Food Glorious Food

It’s the first week of school and we always come home so tired as we get back to the school routine. We had such a lovely holiday with trips to Newcastle and Cardiff, but now is the time to get back to routine, early mornings and schedules. No more late nights watching Law and Order DVDs to compare and contrast the British episodes with the American ones (yes we are that sad) with a long lie in the next day. Because we both know that we’ll be shattered this week I always plan easy peasy meals that are good and nutritious but are a snap to prepare. Tonight was Salsa Corn Soup because it relies on store cupboard and freezer ingredients.

Salsa Corn Soup

1 onion, chopped

Some garlic--we like lots

1 red pepper, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

1 tin black beans, drained and rinsed

2 cups frozen corn

1 jar your favourite salsa

2 ½ cups vegetable stock

Some red pepper flakes or jalapenos or whatever

Juice of one lime

Some fresh coriander (cilantro for all my American peeps) if you have it

Cook the onions, garlic and peppers in a wee bit of oil until softened. Add the rest of the ingredients except the lime juice. Bring to the boils then simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lime juice. That’s it! Sprinkle on the coriander and you’re good to go. We also like to add some plain soy yoghurt that has some lime juice squeezed in to make it tangy like sour cream but whatever floats your boat. This soup can be on the table in 30 minutes. It makes enough for 2 and would be good with some garlic bread or olive oil dippin’ bread or whatever. We ate salad because it was there and there was no bread in the house.

A word about salsa. Yum. That’s a word about salsa. No seriously, we love salsa. Particularly M&S roasted pepper salsa. Even though M&S is kind of a posh shop for upper middle class people their salsa is the best. And only 99p a jar not too outrageous. But wait! In the summer they often run specials that are Buy One Get One Free or Buy One Get One Half Off and this is when we stock up. In the summer I can have a whole larder full of salsa. This was my last jar from the summer stash so I’ll need to get a few more. It’s great in soup or over walnut meat tacos. Salsa is so yum anytime, anywhere. It is a fiesta in your mouth (I can’t believe I just said that)

The other thing I like about M&S salsa is that the lid is just silver and doesn’t sport words like SPICY SALSA on top making it ideal for reuse. You can soak the label off and use it to hold all sorts of kitchen cosmetics. They are even pretty enough to give away as gifts with a bit o’ ribbon and some chocolate sugar body scrub. Oh yeah.


Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme...well Sage and Rosemary

I have been trying to avoid dying my hair for some time as I don’t think it is particularly good for me--I knew about the increase in bladder cancer for people who have been dyeing for a number of years (which I have. Since the age of 15. Now I’m 40. Do the math. But if you can’t then just know that’s quite a long time) but a recent magazine article also said an increase in lymphoma--which is the sort of cancer the Amazing Spiderman had the fourth year we were married. But also exposure to so many chemicals (even when you buy the health food shop brand with no ammonia) is not healthy. Plus all those animal derived/animal tested ingredients to avoid. Nightmare.

So I have been trying (fairly unsuccessfully) to like the hair I have. The problem is that my hair is brown. This is not such a problem in itself, but it is the shade of light brown I detest. Akin to a cardboard box with the occasional grey popping in (although to be fair my grey seems to be mostly whiskers. I am forever plucking some witchy hair from my chin.) The shade that I think looks best on me is a reddish brown or golden chestnut or 4G if you go by the box of stuff I paid £8 for at the health food shop. This slightly darker brown with reddish highlights makes my skin look smoother and clearer. It brings colour to my cheeks. It is just is the shade I was meant to have been born with. So what’s a crunchy granola girl to do on the cheap?

Well……..I did some research in all the herbal books I owned (which are many) and did some googling (which spell check doesn’t recognise as a verb, but I feel certain it will in the future) and came up with a plan. Good herbs for naturally darkening and covering grey in brown hair are SAGE and ROSEMARY. Woohoo I have these on my spice rack. Also BLACK TEA can stain hair. I have Fair Trade teabags. Again Woohoo. So what to do?

Make an infusion of 2TB each sage and rosemary and one teabag and cover with boiling water--about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups. I just eyeballed it. Make the infusion in something glass as all the books said metal can do something weird to the herbs. I just poured it in my pyrex measuring cup. Then cover (I used a plastic bag that would later go on my head) to keep all the volatile oils from escaping like convicts from a chain gang. Then go about your merry way and do something for 45 minutes while it steeps and cools. I did 45 minutes of Disco Aerobics with one of the Nolan Sisters on DVD, but hey--do what you like.

Then come back and strain it through some muslin and a strainer if you’re an eco gal like me or through paper towels and a strainer if you are a tree killer. Then put in a pot (had to do metal here as I didn’t have any glass pots). Scoop out a bit into another container and whisk with a few TB arrowroot powder then add back to the mixture. Then boil and thicken. Remove from the heat see if it is thick and gooey enough for you. I had to put it back on to boil with another TB of arrowroot. I used 3 TB in all. Make sure if you have to add some more you use a few TB COLD water to add the last TB arrowroot to. Otherwise you’ll get lumpy gravy. Eventually it will be a dark brown slightly slimy/sticky goop. Go away again and do something while it cools. Do NOT try to stick your fingers in to see what it feels like or you will get burned. Ask me how I know. While I waited for cool down I mixed a loaf of beer bread and put it in the oven to bake and used the rest of the beer to make a marinade with lime juice, tamari and chilli powder for my Baja Tempeh Tacos for tomorrow. Yum Yum.

When it is sufficiently cool, go to bathroom and lay some newspaper in your sink. This goop gets everywhere and stains a bit like how tea does in the bottom of your tea cup. I didn’t use newspaper and had to rub the limes I juiced for the marinade around the sink with some baking soda afterwards.

Do it just like hairdye--section off and clip and get it all rubbed in there. Comb it through. It smells really nice if you like rosemary (which I do) and when you’re all saturated pop a plastic bag on your head--not your whole head obviously or you'd suffocate. And look stupid. I reused the one I had covered the pyrex cup with because I'm such a girly swot. Then walk around with a bag on your head looking like you've got a jherri curl for 30 minutes. Then rinse and shampoo and condition as usual. I washed out the plastic bag and left it to dry. I’ll write on it with a sharpie that it is for hairdye and I’ll put in my secret drawer with my lip balm pots and candelilla wax and bath bomb moulds.

I have to say--my hair is almost exactly the shade of 4G from the box. It is darker brown with red highlights and smells of rosemary and is as soft as if I washed it in rainwater. Now the question is how long will it last. I am reliably informed that you need to do it every week to keep it up which is no big deal. I have quite short hair and so had quite a bit of goop left. But also being make-it-yourself- gal I own a non-paraben preservative from a cosmetic supplier and so I just preserved mine and put it in a reused salsa jar to save for next time.

I am also told that doing a final rinse after washing with the same infusion--sage, rosemary and tea can help keep the colour going. Kinda like a kitchen version of Roux Fanciful--anyone remember that stuff? I am about a day away from using the last dregs of shampoo so I’ll do the infusion, preserve (as it contains water that can grow nasty bacteria if you just let it sit for days--but I am too lazy to make a new infusion every day) and then decant into ye olde shampoo bottle and presto! Squeeze a bit on my hair in the tub and then rinse the tub out immediately. Way hey! Hair dye from my kitchen!

Monday, 6 September 2010

Do you like my hat?

What about hats, I hear you ask. Do I cover my head? Well after reading the weighty tome that was My Plain Dress Conviction you might want to take a break and visit the loo. Or have a snack. Or dance around like John Travolta to your favourite disco songs. Or whatever you like to do to chill out because this might take a while. Take your time. I’ll wait.

Ready? Then let’s begin.

My Head Covering Conviction

Yes, it was all very well to decide to wear a dress and an apron, but after I felt called to simplify my dress I thought “I will never cover my head. That would be too extreme, even for me.” Well, never say never. In the spring of my first plain year I was looking at modest clothing websites for a sunbonnet as I am fair and prone to burning and don’t like to put sun cream on my face. Plus, if I’m being honest, I had a crush on Holly Hobbie as a kid. I came across  and while looking for a sunbonnet stumbled upon a picture of a plain soft muslin cap and my heart did a summersault. All of a sudden I felt flooded by the most peaceful feeling and the thought that I really wanted to wear that prayer cap. My hair had become a real struggle for me since I went plain. As some of you know I cut my own hair. Daily. Obsessively. And I have a real problem with checking my hair out to see if it is still sticking up in a punky way in every mirror, window and reflective surface. And all the dampness of England meant my hair wouldn’t stay punk and I was constantly fiddling with it. I think the lowest moment was when the Amazing Spiderman caught me checking myself out in the back of a spoon. Oh the shame of it. It had become a real burden for me and I saw that cap as a way to lay that burden aside. So I ordered two (one to wash and one to wear) and began wearing them on a daily basis. I wore them faithfully for many years.

This summer I noticed they were looking a bit tatty so I needed to decide what to do. First I had to decide if I still needed to wear one. So I asked myself these questions:

1. Was I still obsessed with looking at my hair? Not so much. The head covering really helped me to not think of my hair as an accessory, but as the stuff that grows out of the top of my head. When I wore it I looked neat and tidy without having to fix my hair constantly.

2. Was I still having hair cutting obsessions? You bet your sweet bippy. Perhaps even more so. The cap was meant to be worn with long hair pulled up in a bun. My hair is short and thin and didn’t really fill out the back part. Any bit of hair sticking out, particularly at the fitted neckline, really bothered me because it looked scraggly and I cut. So much cutting. Lots and lots of cutting. It probably is a fair guess to say that I may have cut a bald spot from time to time, but the Amazing Spiderman refuses to comment. So one improvement, one backslide.

3. Did I want to continue with the same style? Tricky, that one. I had lots of good outreach with the Muslim students I teach. They saw me as someone like them: someone who loved their God enough to wear something out of the ordinary and not be ashamed. One student in particular who just started wearing a hijab last year at the age of 10 said with wide eyes when she first saw me wear it, “Oh, we look like twins!” and was forever talking to me about the practicality of head covering and how we looked alike. But I wasn’t as keen on the style. The fitted back and my lack of long hair was an issue as well as the ties. I really hated them tied under my chin but letting ’em hang loose meant always getting tangled with my backpack straps.

4. What effect did a covering have on me? I really liked the feel of a hat on my head. The feeling of weight. Like a gentle reminder to think before I spoke or acted. To keep my head about me when all others are losing theirs. To be a symbol of my faith in God. To set me apart as a believer and empower my Muslim children to be strong in their faith which in turn strengthens my faith. So yeah. I needed a new hat.

So, I did some research (thank you Google) and again the perfect example appeared before me. A mob cap. Worn in the 18th century by respectable married women, but by the 19th century worn mostly by the servant class. But a mob cap! Betsy Ross wore a mob cap. Mob caps are cool. So I dug around in my handy-dandy box of scraps and found enough fabric to make two. Traditionally they were white, but I cannot for the life in me keep anything white clean so mine are black.

So that’s the story of my clothes and my hair and how I (mostly) beat my obsessions and how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb. Or something like that.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Goodbye My Lady

Today was the first day back to school. I love this time of year, seeing the children after 6 weeks away. Seeing how tall they’ve grown--some taller than me (although to be fair that’s not that difficult) and to see how much they learned over the summer or how much they lost. It is time that makes me excited because I think of all the stories I am going to share with children in the upcoming year. Fairy tales, folk tales, traditional tales, historical fiction--all performed in costume with props by yours truly.

My mum phoned last night to tell me that one of my dearest childhood friends had died. She was in her 80s and in ill health to but to me Nina (pronounced Nine-a) will always be associated with my love of books. As a child I spent lots of time at her house, nearly every Sunday for several years. You see, I attended a very small Unitarian-Universalist church and I was the only child. There was no one to interact with. If someone was to teach me Sunday School they would have to miss the main service. Mostly it was my mum who volunteered to come out. That’s where Nina stepped in. She had 2 grown boys of her own and had time to spare and books a plenty. So we set up an alternate Sunday School for me at Nina’s house.

And what a house it was! There was a room with a wall made of dark brown cork that smelled heavenly. I loved to rub my face on it and inhale it’s woodsy odour. In that room were shelves and shelves of books and big chair just right for 2 people. Together we sat in the big comfy chair and she read me the most wonderful books. There was the book of Russian tales called The Poppy Seed Cakes by Margery Clark with wonderful illustrations by Maud and Miska Petersham. Those stories featured a naughty little girl named Erminka who was forever getting into scrapes wearing red topped boots that were much too big for her. It also featured characters like her neighbour Andrewshek and his Auntie Katushka from the old country. We also read fairy tales. I was already a devotee of the Brothers Grimm but Nina introduced me to Hans Christian Anderson and we spent many Sundays reading my 2 favourite tales--"The Tinder Box" and "The Steadfast Tin Soldier". As a teacher I go back to these stories again and again. And as a writer as well.

So I want to say to you Nina C, thank you. Thank you for welcoming me into your home and your heart all those years ago. Thank you for making me a reader and a writer. Just thanks.

My Plain Dress Conviction

People often ask me about why I dress the way I dress. It is clearly the first thing that people notice about me. So I guess it is the first strand of my web that I should talk about. Are you sitting comfortably? Have you got popcorn? You might need it.

My Plain Dress Conviction

In the last few years I had become increasingly unhappy with styles of clothing available and the ethics of buying cheap clothes made by poorly paid exploited workers, some of them probably children. How can you feel good wearing the blood, sweat and tears of some small Bangladeshi child? You can’t that’s how.

Also I was overweight and hated my chunky self. I tried very hard for several years to embrace the fat and love my curves proclaiming loudly that I loved my zaftig shape, but if I’m honest it was a lie. I hated myself to the point of tears. I am only 5 foot 2 and a half (don’t you dare forget the half!) and extremely small boned and being 180lbs made me look like Dumbo the elephant complete with sticky out ears. Got that mental picture? Good.

I was having trouble buying clothes that fit and covered up my boobs and didn’t let my crack hang out. Why is it clothes today can’t cover your top or your bottom? I know I sound like an old lady, but it’s true. In my day you didn’t want your underwear sticking out the top of your jeans. Nowadays that’s the style. I know hotpants were all the rage in the 70s but that didn’t mean that was the only thing available for sale in the shops. But I digress. Anyway, I was bloody miserable and was struggling to think about God or what I could do to improve the planet because I kept running this train of negative thoughts through my head about being such a disgusting fatty. Harsh words, but that is how I felt. I would go to school feeling so cute and then catch sight of myself in the full length mirror in the ladies toilets and my heart would just sink like the Titanic. I would feel self conscious all day and have difficulty concentrating on the tasks ahead of me. I found it hard to teach because I was convinced that everyone was thinking horrible thoughts about me. No? Just me then. So I asked God to help me overcome this obsession with myself and my outward appearance and then one night whilst surfing the web I stumbled on a website about a plain dressing Quaker at

This literally changed my life. It hit me--POW--like a cartoon villain in a Spiderman comic book. This was the answer to my prayers. I got this *feeling* every time I looked at it. I knew that feeling well. I got that feeling in Meeting when God was asking me to stand up and say something. I got it when I knew I was supposed to become a vegetarian and later a vegan. It was a low, dull quick sound such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. Actually that’s Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart--but the effect is similar. But I thought to myself--Can I actually do this? It is madness? Will I look stupid? Do I care? So I looked at the Quaker Testimony of Simplicity to see if could shed any light on my dilemma and this is what it had to say:

The Testimony of Simplicity is the Quaker belief that a person ought to live his or her life simply in order to focus on what is most important and ignore or play down what is least important. It is the practice among Quakers (members of the Religious Society of Friends) of being more concerned with one’s inner condition than one’s outward appearance and with other people more than oneself. Friends believe that a person’s spiritual life and character are more important than the quantity of goods he possesses or his monetary worth.

I wrote in a journal privately for two months trying to hash out what plain meant to me and where did I want to go with it. Did plain mean a kind of easy to put together uniform that was comfortable and practical? YES. Did it mean being all sombre and wearing a hair shirt? NO. Dressing plain would allow me to focus on the things that were more important: my relationship with God, how I interacted with people and the care of the world around me and get me to stop obsessing about my outer appearance. It seemed both ludicrous and ideal. I finally spoke to the Amazing Spiderman who was surprisingly nonplussed about the whole thing. He reminded me that when I used to teach first grade in the States that I had always worn a big ole coloured apron with kangaroo pockets. Those pockets had been quite useful. And that I used to dress as a Pilgrim for the whole month of November. Yes I really did do that. I was a cool teacher. I loved that Pilgrim dress and apron. They were comfortable, practical and easy to sew. My kind of clothes. So I did it. I went out fabric shopping and made some plain clothes using a McCalls Pilgrim costume pattern. And the rest, they say, is history.

More Recently

I have been wearing a dress and an apron for four years and I have never looked back. I have become a more balanced person who’s out making the world a better place rather than moaning about my fat arse. Which I don’t have anymore, incidentally. In that time I discovered that you really do need to exercise to lose weight. Yeah, I knew this before, but didn’t want to admit it to myself. We eat vegan food--the healthiest, yummiest diet on the planet (and for the planet), but if you don’t get off your be-hind then the weight ain’t coming off. So now with a sensible program of diet and exercise --blah, blah, blah--I am down to nine stone. I’m saying it the British way now because we are working toward our British Citizenship. And I want to show off my mental maths skills. For those in the U.S. a stone is 14lbs so 14 X 9= 126lbs. A good and healthy weight. Size 12. To be fair some of this weight loss is also due to having a hysterectomy six months ago for fibroids the size of Wales. Want a flatter stomach? Have a hysterectomy! It is scary to admit that the one part of my body that I hated the most might not have been my fault at all.

But even being thinner and healthier hasn’t stopped me from wanting to continue to be plain. Quite the opposite. I am freed from the burden of what to wear in the morning other than “Which of the five dresses and their matching apron is it today?” and I am still not supporting sweatshop labour. Winners all around, I’d say.